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Palmeiras could and should go after every title, every year. The Paulistão is gone (as a trophy, but not as a fight to be fought for transparency and fairness in Brazilian football), with the Libertadores Cup, Brazil Cup and Brazilian Championship still up for grabs. And it’s the latter that kicked off last weekend.

The Brasileirão is the competition Palmeiras are most likely to win this year. Why? Primarily, because of the quality and depth of the squad, crucial in a long and tiring championship as the Brazilian national, played all over this continental-sized country.
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The Brazilian championship is one, if not the hardest to predict in the world, as many football betting sites will tell you. There are normally 7-8 teams seriously in it to win, sometimes more. However, this year, I´d say the usual suspects have been slightly decimated. Current champions Corinthians, heavy-spenders Flamengo, stable Grêmio, well-coached Cruzeiro: any champion other than the aforementioned four and Palmeiras would be quite the surprise. Yes, I am ruling out Santos, São Paulo, Internacional, Atlético Mineiro, and all the carioca teams except Flamengo.

Obviously, Palmeiras are not yet close to peak performance, neither is every position rock solid, with an as-good option on the bench. But things seem to be moving in the right direction and, at least on paper, the Palmeiras squad is clearly ahead of the competition. Add to that an ever-increasing revenue gap, the excellent attendance levels at the Allianz Parque, apparently solid club management, player’s paychecks deposited on time (not a given in Brazil, mind you) and Palmeiras quickly becomes the favourite. The obvious downside to this, the added internal and external pressure.

Below, the 20 teams in this year’s edition, in alphabetical order: 

América Mineiro (up from 2nd division)
Atletico Paranaense
Bahia
Botafogo
Ceará (up from 2nd division)
Chapecoense
Corinthians
Cruzeiro
Flamengo
Grêmio
Internacional (up from 2nd division)
Palmeiras
Paraná (up from 2nd division)
Santos
São Paulo
Sport 
Vasco
Vitória

The round kicked off with three games on the Saturday, five on the Sunday and the last two yesterday Monday, which included Palmeiras’ 1-1 debut away against Botafogo. Although Palmeiras missed a great opportunity to return home with the three points, the result was no disaster: out of the ten visiting sides in the first round, none but Grêmio came out victorious, and only Palmeiras and Flamengo managed a draw. That being said, Palmeiras urgently need to address the squad’s apparent lack of zest and concentration, especially at the end of matches – these last two draws, against Boca Juniors and Botafogo, being clear examples of this. Machado and the squad now have a few days to rest and train ahead of the clash with Porto Alegre’s Internacional on Sunday.

Finally, things are getting serious.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Palmeiras President Maurício Galiotte

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In light of Sunday’s debacle, Palmeiras yesterday night published an open letter to the club’s supporters. The letter reads [in an unofficial translation]:

— ooo —

The Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras understands that the institution and its supporters suffered hard and irreparable damage by the disastrous, incompetent and irregular performance put out by the referees responsible for last Sunday’s game between Palmeiras and Corinthians.

In violation of the rulebook, there was clear and evident external interference in the arbitration, as indisputably proven by the images. As a response to this, in the name of integrity and transparency during games, Palmeiras understands it is non-negotiable that the following measures be adopted by the Paulista Football Federation:

1. Implementation of the Video Assistant Referee for all matches of the São Paulo Championship as of 2019;

2. Creation of a recording system, allowing for the disclosure, when necessary, of all communication between referees during the game;

3. Careful reassessment of the directors of the Referees Department of the Paulista Football Federation, as well as a more rigorous evaluation of those in charge of the matches.

Until there is an official signal coming from the Paulista Football Federation that these transparency measures will be adopted, Palmeiras’ relations with the Federation remain suspended.

On the pitch, Palmeiras consider last Sunday’s game a regrettable page now turned. There are other competitions ahead of us and we will make our outmost efforts to achieve them. The Palmeiras supporter is key in this process and his acknowledged involvement will be even more important.

Avanti Palestra!

Regards,

SOCIEDADE ESPORTIVA PALMEIRAS
Maurício Precivalle Galiotte
President

— ooo —

Palmeiras are using strong language. If the club will be able to withstand the pressure and/or provoke change, only time will tell.

Brazilian football is facing a crisis, Sunday’s events nothing but the tip of the iceberg. Primary culprits have been named before. Extremely badly managed, non-transparent, biased, elitist, with poor refereeing (at best), and overall low levels of stadium attendance. The football federations, the confederation and Rede Globo are putting out a sad product, selling it as top notch to sponsors. Possibly these sponsors would be more concerned about the quality of the product they associate their brands with, should they face rejection among football lovers.

For your information, a list of brands sponsoring main championships and/or transmissions:

Rede Globo
Banco Itaú, Brahma, Chevrolet, Hypermarcas, Unilever, Vivo

Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF)
Cimed, English Live, Gol, Guaraná Antártica Nike, Itaú, Mastercard, Ultrafarma, Universidade Brasil, Vivo

Paulista Football Federation (FPF)
Bet 90, Canon, Gafisa, Itaipava, Kappa, Penalty, Sky

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globo_respeite

“Football is run by Globo; the Federation is just a meeting room” – Alex

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Hundreds of tiny cuts. Day in, day out. Took me some years to notice, partly due to innocence, partly due to my inability to pick up the finer strokes and the “in-between-the-lines” in a still to me very foreign language.

From those early stages of ignorance, I progressed to denial, considering a wide, orchestrated campaign a preposterous idea, driven by the passion that blinds the best of supporters of any club at any given time.

Patterns became more visible over time, and so did my knowledge of the society in which I find myself inserted. These and other things converted to a different insight, laying the foundation for what I am about to address: the multifaceted and deliberate attacks on the Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras.

These attacks are partly rooted in decade-long feuds of both political and social order; the Italian origin of the club; the “enemy-of-the-state” sentiment flourishing during WWII, culminating in the forced name change from Palestra Italia to Palmeiras; the biased Superior Tribunal of Sports, based in Rio de Janeiro, always catering for the interests of carioca teams; the rotten to the bone Brazilian Football Federation (CBF); the equally pathetic Paulista Football Federation… These and other factors directly and indirectly contribute to direct and indirect attacks on Palmeiras, exemplified on numerous occasions over the years, as exposed here at AP.

Yet, we are still to address Palmeiras’ main foe, the true hydra. The Globo television network and its affiliates.

The power of Rede Globo is unrivalled, and on many fronts. For decades, this giant of the Brazilian media has called the shots concerning the Brazilian championship and the National Squad, a puppet master of sorts behind the CBF. The Network assigns time slots for games without regard to stadium attendance, only concerned about securing maximum revenues from their primary cash cows, the telenovelas. Weekday games finish close to midnight, spectators sometime left without public transport to get home by.

The Network has its darlings, Flamengo and Corinthians. “The Clubs of the People”. Little efforts sparred to award advantages to these two in the pursuit of a “Barcelona vs. Real Madrid of the Americas” setting. Flamengo and Corinthians receive about the double in broadcasting rights compared to other major clubs, including Palmeiras, without any numbers to justify the distortion. They get more airtime, without television ratings to back up the decision. The two frequently enjoy positive plot twists: a Flamengo draw is an “increased undefeated streak” while a Palmeiras draw is a “narrow escape from embarrassing defeat”. Would you believe the Globo network even sponsors the fabrication of banners and flags for the organised supporter groups of Flamengo and Corinthians?
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The inflated broadcasting revenues enjoyed by the aforementioned darlings roughly correspond to what Palmeiras receive through the club’s Master Sponsorship agreement with Crefisa/FAM. Indeed an important source of revenue, albeit only making up some 16% of Palmeiras’ total inflow. The club is however frequently criticized in the media for “having accepted being hostage to the capital” and dependent on the whims of a sponsor.

Last year, after lengthy negotiations, Palmeiras opted for selling their 2019-2024 cable TV transmission rights to newcomers Esporte Interativo, part of the Turner Broadcasting Company, the television arm of Time Warner. This has generated two immediate effects: for the Palmeiras games that Globo would retain the right to broadcast (open air and PPV), the Network has offered Palmeiras a deal 20% below that of previous year. Palmeiras have so far refused; if stalemate prevails, Globo will be without broadcasting rights to 1/10 of games in the 2019 Brazilian championship.

More seriously, and as former Globo employee Luiz Ademar confirmed a few weeks back, the Network has been instructing their sports journalists to trash-talk Palmeiras. And not only Palmeiras, but any team that signs with Esporte Interativo.

Palmeiras’ exposure has diminished on cable TV and even on the radio, with the CBN and Globo radio stations sometimes opting out from a transmission that seemed like a no-brainer.

Add to this the absurdities frequently seen on social media. I refuse to linger on this topic, but will provide you with one example: “How many goals will Teo Gutiérres score against Palmeiras?” is the question posed by Globo affiliate SporTV. One would think the Network would express support for a Brazilian representative in the Libertadores Cup. Think again.
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Isolated, the aforementioned examples are easily brushed aside. Compiled, they draw a different picture. A picture also subject to healthy scepticism, were it not for its perpetration over time. And its effect on the referees.

No, there is no orchestrated conspiracy among referees to benefit certain teams and make life harder for others. No need to: everyone knows what happens to the career of a referee who makes a crucial mistake or two against Flamengo or Corinthians. Referees in Brazil never talk, unless they have committed such a mistake. A few weeks back we had one actually crying to the press outside the locker rooms.

No wonder attendance is dropping all over the scale. Supporters in general are tired of the bias, the manipulation and the outright lies. Palmeiras supporters in particular, who last week launched a twitter campaign that within hours reached the worldwide trending topics with the hashtag “GloboRespeiteOPalmeiras”.

Unhappy costumers is normally not good for business. In this particular context, unhappy costumers might hurt the brands associating themselves with Rede Globo in general and with football in particular. Food for thought.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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The early definitions of head coach and priority reinforcement of the squad gave Palmeiras conditions to kick of the year in better shape than in a long time. After four rounds of the São Paulo championship, out of the 16 teams, only Palmeiras have a perfect score, having played Santo André (3-1); Botafogo (0-1); Red Bull Brasil (2-1) and Bragantino (0-2). On Sunday, an opponent of somewhat larger calibre awaits at the Allianz Parque in the shape of our playmaker Lucas Lima’s former club, Santos. Should be a great game to watch, with offensive football in abundance.

A few weeks back, we considered the Palmeiras squad readily assembled, informing that any additional newcomer, like Gustavo Scarpa, would materialize only should a particularly interesting opportunity arise. And so it did. The Brazilian judiciary freed Scarpa from his contract with Fluminense due to the Rio de Janeiro club’s non-fulfilment of contractual obligations and the attacking midfielder’s sudden availability on the market caused a fervour. With offers to pick and choose, Scarpa, like so many other quality players as of recent, opted to embark on the Green wagon, thrilled by the opportunity to play for Brazil’s currently most well-structured and realistically ambitious club. Scarpa signed a five-year contract a couple of weeks ago and should make his debut in our jersey mid-February. Welcome, Gustavo!
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While Palmeiras supporters rejoice with the consistent and meticulous construction of what, at least on paper, looks like a very strong title contender for 2018 and beyond, the Brazilian press seems less impressed. Although not even 14% of the club’s revenues last year originated from FAM/Crefisa, frequently Palmeiras are portrayed as “dependent on the sponsor”, an hostage even. In addition, smear and debauchery are launched on a daily basis against Palmeiras’ financial health, as if the club was miles ahead of everybody else (in fact, Flamengo top the revenues table, Palmeiras being the runners-up, closely followed by another two or three clubs). Palmeiras have a too qualified a squad, Palmeiras provoke unbalance in Brazilian football, Palmeiras lock the transfer market, Palmeiras’ sponsor deals yield too much (never mind Flamengo and Corinthians receive even larger additional amounts due to individually negotiated broadcasting rights), the list of complaints goes on and on.

It’s all bull, and the more of it we hear, the more we can be certain Palmeiras are on the right track. Brazilian press stopped caring about objectivity long ago, and that certainly includes many a sports journalist wearing a team jersey under the dress shirt like second skin. Keep on bashing you lot, we can take it. Expect return, with interest, in the shape of titles and more titles.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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With Grêmio’s draw last Sunday, a victory against relegation-prone Avaí would propel Palmeiras to second position in the tables, a position worth roughly US$ 1,2 million extra in prize money at the end of the championship. It would also increase Alberto Valentim’s chances of remaining as Palmeiras’ coach in 2018. At least slightly, at least in theory.

Once more, Palmeiras became the victim of Valentim’s attempts to implement an advanced line of defence. The idea is not at all revolutionary, but a satisfactory level of implementation is only possible to achieve with time. Clearly, Palmeiras are not there yet: as against Vitória, Palmeiras’ defence at times looked like on a suicide mission, allowing Avaí to score twice, minutes apart, at the beginning of the second half. Palmeiras’ much superior ball posse resulted in many attempts at goal but desperately few on target. Valentim also looked desperate, promoting Guerra with only a few minutes remaining on the clock. 

At the press conference after the game, Valentim voiced the opinion that Palmeiras had played a good game and lost due to two unfortunate moments. He also asserted he will act as coach, at Palmeiras or elsewhere, in 2018.
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Today, Palmeiras announced they will offer Valentim the assisting coach position he held before Cuca’s dismissal. In other words: Palmeiras have no intention of keeping Valentim in command next season. Valentim says he will respond to the offer after the championship has ended.

Palmeiras are clearly seeking to sign a new coach a.s.a.p. With Mano Menezes out of the picture, nine out of ten believe current Fluminense coach Abel Braga is the chosen one. The 65-year-old carioca is experienced, emotional, old school. With Internacional he won the Libertadores Cup and the World Club Championship in 2006 and in 2012 he won the Brasileirão with Fluminense.

A second option is 42-year-old Roger Machado, most recently at Atlético Mineiro, from where he was fired last July, after only six months at the club. As coach, Machado has no national titles on his CV.

What are the odds Abel would be successful at Palmeiras? Machado? Conrado Cacace of the Verdazzo argues it does not really matter, for as long as Palmeiras do not come up with a footballing identity.  

Palmeiras might have achieved excellence in many areas off pitch, including superior economic firepower and top notch training facilities, but the club has not yet established itself as a School of Football. The professional team is mutant: the style of play is a truthful mirror of the coach, a coach who on average lasts five months.

This situation is in stark contrast with, for example, Corinthians, who, even while enduring financial problems, maintain a well-defined playing style, as implemented by coach Tite in 2010 and adapted by his successors Mano Menezes, Tite (during his comeback) and most recently Fábio Carille. Cristóvão Borges tried to change that identity and was very short-lived. Cacace argues that one may question the beauty of the formula but not its efficiency: Corinthians have reaped excellent results even as coaches have changed and the squad has featured players of only satisfactory technical level. With doubt, this is due to the footballing identity created and implemented over time.

Creating a footballing identity takes time, and balls, because the coach needs to be maintained until that identity consolidates, even in the face of poor performance. Eduardo Baptista is a recent example of the opposite: at Palmeiras, he was securing some 60% of points at play and slowly deploying a system that could have been quite solid today. However, after the São Paulo Cup elimination, Baptista was fired and the ongoing identity development went down the drain.

There are no certainties in football. Keeping Baptista could have resulted in a team peaking in the last months of the championship, securing our tenth Brazileirão title. Or he could have remain stuck in the search for the balance between attack and defence, unable to secure even a spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup. We will never know.

Regardless, Palmeiras need to create an identity, an identity that should serve as a mark also for the youth divisions. So, who to pick to implement this identity?

The name of the coach is not that important, Cacace argues. Palmeiras can assign a technical director, a position to be occupied in the long term by a deep connoisseur of football, who will be the reference, shaping the identity and securing that players that fit the model of play are signed. Something similar to what Paulo Autuori does at Atlético Paranaense and what Tite, although today not formally, continues to do at Corinthians. With a technical director in place, the importance of and the pressure on the coach will diminish.

No coach currently speculated at Palmeiras obtains more than a 30% approval rate among supporters, meaning any of them would face resistance of more than two thirds. Just like Alberto Valentim. Our current interim coach had a head start in relation to any newcomer, but is now out of the picture. Whichever successor is chosen will need the unrestricted backing of the club’s directors, resisting as hell breaks loose, over and over again, until that identity has been forged.

Without a footballing identity – or the will to create one – it matters little who takes over as coach: he will feel the moving sand at the first sequence of defeats, and be gone at the beginning of the second.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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It was in the cards. Last Thursday’s home draw to relegation-threatened Bahia, after leading two nil, saw coach Cuca’s dismissal. “By mutual agreement”, as the Palmeiras statement read on Friday afternoon.

cuca_211In 2016, Cuca guided Palmeiras to their first top-flight title in 22 years before stepping down for personal reasons. After a few months with Eduardo Baptista in command, Cuca was reappointed in May. The premature exit in the Libertadores Cup was followed by an equally disappointing Brazil Cup performance. Now, with plenty of time for training and rest, improvements were expected but Cuca and the squad failed to deliver. The lack of evolution gradually corroded confidence and both players and coach started to display certain listlessness. The ending is always the same: coach sacked. In this second spell at the club, Cuca led Palmeiras in 34 games, with 16 victories, 7 draws and 11 defeats: only 54% of the points available.  

Always a fierce critic of the constant coach swapping in Brazilian football, I have come to understand just how deeply entrenched in the system it is. Consider the latest turns at Palmeiras: Ricardo Gareca, 4 months; Dorival Júnior, 3 months; Oswaldo de Oliveira, 5 months; Marcelo Oliveira, 10 month; Cuca, 8 months (first spell); Eduardo Baptista, 5 months; Cuca, 5 months (second spell). A club might have the best of intentions, wanting to stick with a coach no matter what: the pressure, from everyone and everywhere, is overwhelming. Considering this, Cuca’s dismissal was well timed. Assisting coach Alberto Valentim immediately assumed, last Sunday leading Palmeiras to a 3-1 away victory against Atlético Goianense. With ten rounds to go, he should be able to keep Palmeiras in the top four, securing a spot in next year’s Libertadores.

That said, Valentim has virtually zero chance of receiving a permanent appointment. My sources say Palmeiras have locked sights on current Cruzeiro coach Mano Menezes, with previous spells at Grêmio, Corinthians, Flamengo and, in 2010-2012, Brazil’s national squad. The 55-year-old has been the name of choice of football director Alexandro Mattos for years. Seems discussions are already involving names of players Mano would like to see added to the Palmeiras squad in 2018. With that, planning for next season is well underway, which is fundamentally important.

To Cuca, eternal gratitude for the 2016 Brazilian championship title. Too bad things did not work out in the sequel. Best of luck in future endeavours!

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Interviewed in September of 2015, owner/president of Crefisa and Faculdade das Américas Leila Pereira refuted rumours she held intentions to become president of Palmeiras. “I cannot run for president now. I only recently became a member of the club and the statues say a person needs to have completed two mandates in the Deliberative Council [before being eligible for presidency]”, she told a reporter of Diário de São Paulo. Mrs Pereira knew she was looking at, at least, 16 years to fulfil any aspirations of the sort: eight years of club membership before eligible for the Deliberative Council, then two turns there, each mandate spanning four years.

No small surprise then when Mustafá Contursi, one of the club’s most senior oligarchs, in February of 2016 announced Leila Pereira was not only a club member, but had been so since 1996. Mr Contursi claims having made her an honorary member that year, while he was president of Palmeiras. However, no records of such an act have been found. And even if they were, the statutes does not give the club’s president the mandate to appoint honorary members at will: the procedure is actually fairly complicated, culminating in a decision taken by the plenary of the DC.

However, faced with the explicit threat of a non-renewal of the extremely lucrative sponsorship deal with Crefisa/FAM unless Mrs Pereria was allowed to run for a seat, newly elected Palmeiras president Maurício Galiotte granted Mr Contursi’s request for a revised entry date for Mrs Pereira. In Mr Galiotte’s thinking, the decision to bar Mrs Pereira was not his to make, but should be left to the DC, sometime after the voting (scheduled for early February) but before the newly elected took their seats in March. A few days after Mr Galiotte made his decision public, Palmeiras and Crefisa/FAM renewed their sponsorship agreement, worth an estimated 25% of Palmeiras’ total revenues in 2017-2018.

Why is having a political role at Palmeiras so important for Leila Pereira? Perhaps to please her husband and business partner José Roberto Lamacchia, a hard-core palmeirense (Pereira herself was born in Rio a Vasco supporter). Perhaps she enjoys the power rush. Perhaps it is in all the attention she receives while transiting from a very wealthy but anonymous businesswoman into someone who, in her own words, is recognized on the streets even outside of Brazil. Likely, there is a combination of the above and more; this unknown “more” factor making some of us rather nervous.

leila_mustafaIn any case, at the DC elections in February, Mrs Pereira did indeed run for a seat, as one of the candidates under Mustafá Contursi’s ticket. She was elected with a record 248 votes – several times the number she needed – and the extra votes spilled over to Mr Contursi, who thus reinforced his position in the DC with some 6-8 loyal names. In order to understand the impact of this, I quote Marcelo Santa Vicca: “The easiest way to understand how Mustafá Contursi’s head works is recognising he hates football and only cares for the social club”.

Today, 6 March, the Deliberate Council met to determine on the legitimacy of Mrs Pereira’s candidacy. On paper, a rather straightforward matter, one would think: void candidacy and therefore, void election. Nonetheless, she passed the trial like a breeze, only some 45 of the 228 gathered members of the DC opposing her inauguration.

The club´s statute was shredded in the most vulgar way. The immediate effect is the shame felt by many an honourable palmeirense, many of these outside the political sphere of the club. The medium to long-term effects are impossible to predict.

In addition to the above, the DC also elected two gentlemen as president and vice-president of the Council – Seraphim Del Grande and Carlos Faedo – both linked to Mr Contursi.

A moment of hesitation, and Palmeiras’ political landscape just recedes 15 years. Some thought the dragon had been slayed. It was not even sleeping.

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